December 9, 2023

NEW YORK - JULY 23: (L-R) Rappers The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur and Redman backstage at a Tupac Shakur performance at Club Amazon on July 23, 1993 in New York, New York. (Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The older I become, the harder it is to defend Tupac Amaru Shakur as the greatest RAPPER of all time.

If one goes by pure rap/lyrics, its difficult to make an argument that puts him above Big, Hov, Nas, Black Thought, Talib, Mos Def, or Andre 3000. The older we become, the more appreciation we have for not only what was said, BUT how it was said, and we tend to measure the complexities of both the what and how.

So yes, recycling, “Being buried in the cemetery while I ride on my enemies with Hennessy,” ain’t exactly mind blowing lyrics.

Tupac dissenters passionately argue that he isn’t the greatest rapper, WHILE leaving faults surrounding their favorite rapper like Jay, who has bitten from both the Pac and Big apple tree on numerous occasions OR Nas, who takes 2 years to write one song and and produces a classic album maybe once every decade. Maybe.

BUT what Tupac dissenters fail to embrace, or flat out ignore, is the overall impact Tupac made on the culture, especially black culture. So, Tupac may not have been the best lyricists to ever get in a booth but he was damn good and if you couple his lyrical skill with him being BY FAR the most influential artist in rap history and one of the more influential figures in American/world history, doesn’t that at least put him in the greatest of all time conversation?

Sure, Pac’s lyrics may not have been as complex as a Jay-Z verse full of metaphors that would require immense decoding, or a Biggie story time verse that painted a picture just as vivid as a Eudora Welty short story, but Tupac wasn’t here for all that.

Tupac wasn’t here for all that.

Tupac wasn’t here for all that.

Tupac went straight for the juggler. Tupac went straight for the throat of American society. No filter, no political correctness, no censor and no fucks.

The black plight, at the time (And NOW, hence why Tupac is still so relevant), needed that no holds bar rawness to not only tell the story of the intersectionality of black poverty in this country, but to uplift those stuck in poverty. Uplift those stuck in the system. Inspire those to defend the defenseless. Give hope to the hopeless.

We KNEW exactly what Tupac meant when he rapped shit like:

“Now, I was raised as a young black male/In order to get paid, forced to make crack sales/Caught a nigga so they send me to these overpacked jails/In the cell, countin’ days in this livin’ black hell, do you feel me?”

This arguably sums up the plight of the young black male in America. Even an upper middle class lad like myself listened to these uncut, unfiltered lines again and again, fearing the fate of either being dead or in jail. The fear, for me was probably unwarranted, but American Racism doesn’t care what neighborhood your black ass grew up in.

Give me Tupac’s power and influence, after all these years, is still relevant.

President Francis “Frank” Underwood once stated, “Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn’t see the difference.”

Tupac was and still is power. The rest of em are money.

Leslie McLemore writes about a lot of different shit for Black With No Chaser. He is also the Takeaway Kang and is the father of two beautiful girls, one of which gets on every nerve he has. The other one is sweet. So, you know, balance. 

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